What’s the difference between LAN and WAN?

A local area network (LAN) connects devices that are physically close to each other by using connectors like routers and switches. It allows devices to exchange data and communicate securely on a small scale. A wide area network (WAN) spans beyond a single building or large campus to connect multiple locations spread across a specific geographic area or even the world. Organizations use WANs to facilitate digital interactions and data sharing between employees and customers in different regions or countries.

What are the similarities between LAN and WAN?

Local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs) connect computers and peripheral devices so that network users can share data and resources. Here are other things they have in common.

Basic principles

LANs and WANs are both computer networks made up of nodes and links. They require two or more nodes to create a computer network.

A network node may be data communication equipment (DCE) or data terminal equipment (DTE). DCE includes things like modems, hubs, or switches, while DTE may be something like two or more computers and printers.

A link is the transmission media that connects two nodes. Wired connections use ethernet cables made of coaxial, fiber-optic, or twisted-pair technology. On the other hand, wireless connections use radio waves, like 3G, 4G, or 5G technology, to connect nodes.

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Data transmission

LANs and WANs both use DCE network devices. These devices help networks direct traffic and deliver data to the correct destinations.

Additionally, both LANs and WANs use sets of rules called communication protocols to manage data transmission between connected devices. The most common protocol is TCP/IP. There are also other protocols for different types of communication, like the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) and the Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP).


You can secure both LANs and WANs by using various methods such as firewalls, encryption, and access control. Security measures prevent unauthorized access to the network and protect sensitive data during transmission. If you implement strong security measures, both WANs and LANs can provide a secure environment for your users to communicate and share data.

What are the key differences between LAN and WAN?

Fundamentally, both local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs) connect several devices. However, a WAN can be made up of multiple interconnected LANs. A WAN is a network that connects multiple LANs over a long distance to allow devices to communicate over a wide area.

Here are other key differences between WANs and LANs.


The Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model defines a layered structure of how computers exchange data on a network. The layers identify different steps in network communication and various tasks that network components perform to make the exchange happen.

LANs use data communication equipment (DCE) from OSI layers 1 and 2. Layer 1 devices, such as hubs and repeaters, physically transmit data over the network. For example, they may convert digital signals into analog signals for transmission over a physical medium. Layer 2 devices, such as switches and bridges, establish and maintain communication between devices on the same network segment.

WANs use DCE from OSI layers 1, 2, and 3.  Layer 3 devices route data between different network segments. To do this, they examine the addresses of incoming data packets and forward the packets to the appropriate destination networks. Examples include multi-layer switches, routers, and technology-specific devices such as frame-relay switches and asynchronous transfer mode (ATM).


In LANs, connections between devices are physical—such as through ethernet cables or wireless access points. These connections allow for fast communication between devices within a confined geographical area.

In contrast, WAN connections are often virtual connections over the public internet. A variety of telecommunications links are used to connect devices over a larger geographical area. For example, here are different types of WAN connections:

  • Leased lines offer a dedicated point-to-point connection between two locations. These are often used for high-speed data transfer to remote areas.
  • Multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) is a routing technique that uses labels to direct data between different locations over a WAN.
  • Virtual private network (VPN) connections allow users to safely and anonymously transmit data over public networks.
  • Cloud-based connections link together resources hosted in the cloud.

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A LAN offers low propagation delay and a high data transfer rate compared to a WAN. Propagation delay refers to the time it takes for a signal to travel from one point in a network to another. LAN devices are located in close proximity and connected through routers or switches using ethernet cables. A LAN also has less congestion because it supports a more limited number of users than a WAN.

In comparison, WAN users experience higher propagation delays and lower data transfer rates. Geographical distance is an important factor that impacts speed. Also, many types of WAN connections are based on public internet infrastructure and experience congestion, errors, and delays related to how the internet operates. Private leased lines can offer higher speeds but are expensive to install.

When to use LAN vs. WAN

Both local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs) have different use cases to meet different user requirements.

When to use LAN

You can use a LAN to create private, isolated, high-speed connections between devices in close proximity. These are some scenarios where a LAN is useful:

  • File exchange and communication within the same geographical location, like a single office or multiple offices in the same building
  • Connecting automated robots to a central control mechanism within a factory
  • Creating a network for mobile point-of-sale systems and video surveillance devices within a retail store
  • Connecting several Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and meters to a central hub that filters the data before transmitting it to the cloud

When to use WAN

You can use a WAN to connect users and applications securely across a wide geographical area. These are some scenarios where a WAN is useful:

  • Facilitating communication between geographically dispersed branch offices, so employees can communicate and access shared resources
  • Allowing remote users, third parties, and external partners to access internal company resources
  • Connecting to cloud-based applications and services
  • Replicating data between geographically dispersed locations for data backup and disaster recovery

Summary of differences: LAN vs. WAN




Stands for

LAN means local area network.

WAN means wide area network.


LANs connect users and applications in close geographical proximity (same building).

WANs connect users and applications in geographically dispersed locations (across the globe).


LANs use OSI Layer 1 and Layer 2 data connection equipment for transmission.

WANs use Layer 1, 2, and 3 network devices for data transmission.


LANs use local connections like ethernet cables and wireless access points.

WANs use wide area connections like MPLS, VPNs, leased lines, and the cloud.


LANs are faster, because they span less distance and have less congestion.

WANs are slightly slower, but that may not be perceived by your users.

Use cases

LANs are good for private IoT networks, bot networks, and small business networks.

WANs are good for disaster recovery, applications with global users, and large corporate networks.

How can AWS support your LAN and WAN requirements?

At Amazon Web Services (AWS), we offer the broadest and deepest set of LAN and WAN management services with our AWS networking and content delivery services. You can use them to deliver applications and content anywhere in the world over a purpose-built network.

Here are AWS services that can help you with your LAN and WAN requirements:

Get started with LANs and WANs on AWS by creating a free AWS account today.

Next Steps with AWS

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